Novato ranch provides healing experience for injured vets

Marin Independent Journal | By Stephanie Weldy |   | Link to Article

Daniel Riley, 30, lost his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines in 2010.

He thought he would be confined to the couch the rest of his life.

That was far from the case Saturday as the Edwards, Colorado, resident joined 12 other wounded veterans from across the nation to ride bicycles on rugged terrain at a private Novato ranch along with professional Enduro mountain bike rider Mark Weir.

“It’s like a dream,” said 30-year-old veteran Ryan Beamish. “It’s like we’re in a fantasy world. This is seriously like the greatest thing. I have a deep bike background and I’m just in seventh heaven.”

Team Semper Fi, a rehabilitative athletic program targeting service members, is holding its first mountain bike camp through Monday. The program is branched from the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit group that provides financial help and support to post-Sept. 11 veterans and their families.

Weir, a Novato native and nine-time winner of the Downieville Downhill mountain bike race, has been teaching the riders how to keep their head up when riding, proper posture and shifting.

The 22-year mountain bike racer said he spends less time racing these days and a lot more giving back to the community.

“It just feels good,” Weir, 43, said. “These guys provide us freedom. These are people that have given to us. It’s the very least we can do — to share our lives with them. They protect us every day and have sustained life-changing injuries they’ll never forget. Maybe a slice of this can make them feel better to start living their life in a better way.”

Though the rain came down thick late Saturday morning at a sprawling ranch near Stafford Lake, it did not stop the riders from mounting their bikes and kicking up mud as they rode down steep hills and berms.

Beamish, a Tucson, Arizona, resident who served in the Marines, said he has been riding bikes since he was three years old. His ride of choice in his earlier years was a BMX bike, but mountain biking now provides him with a release.

“When I ride my bike, it’s focus time, I don’t have to stray,” he said. “Riding time is never time to start thinking. I can put myself into a pit. When riding my bike, it’s positive. I’m focusing on that.”

Beamish was injured when he was serving overseas. An improvised explosive device detonated near him, killing his friend who was alongside him.

Riley said the biking camp is not only a way to practice in some of the best mountain biking terrain, but it also is about camaraderie with brothers in arms.

“I only know two of the guys here, but after the first night, it was that common Marine Corps bond,” he said. “And yesterday we got out first thing in the morning, did a few laps and rode till 4 o’clock. We had dinner, hung out and we’re back at it today.”

Sam Tickle, Team Semper Fi’s associate director, was instrumental in launching the program. The mountain bike camp is focused on bikes, but there is a lot more to it than that, he said.

“The vehicle here is the bike but it’s a general sense of family that makes this a success,” Tickle said.